Director: Sav Rodgers
Cast: Joey Lauren Adams, Kevin Smith, Guinevere Turner, Trish Bendix, Jason Lee
Released: Tribeca Film Festival 2023
Never meet your heroes advises a popular adage which is a premise that director Sav Rodgers tests in this new documentary Chasing Chasing Amy which had its premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. Rodgers’ feature directorial debut embarks on a personal journey exploring how the 90s film, Chasing Amy, offered a lifeline to Rodgers as a bullied Kansas teen discovering their sexual identity. As such, it was difficult for Rodgers to reconcile the fact that Chasing Amy was later considered problematic and polarising amongst queer communities to which Rodgers belonged. Thus, The documentary provides Rodgers’ analysis of such inspirational material, which goes beyond fandom, with extremely candid footage. Chasing Chasing Amy’s multi-faceted approach unearths many unpredictable elements, with Rodgers’ arc unintentionally being spotlighted and yields a rich, thoughtful riveting commentary for this documentary with unforeseen developments.
Rodgers’ 2018 viral Ted Talk about Chasing Amy’s wide-reaching impact on his life provided that monumental life breakthrough. Details of the talk eventually reached Twitter and captured the eye of Kevin Smith, the renowned director of Clerks and Chasing Amy. The result was the commencement of the filming for this documentary on the making of Chasing Amy. Rodgers’ admiration of Smith permeates the film, and moments with Rodgers visiting Smith’s home reflect this hero worship aspect. However, such scenes are equally insightful. Chasing Chasing Amy also imitates the comic book style present within Chasing Amy, with several stages of the documentary framed in an amusing strip design. There is also that stylised editing element to Chasing Chasing Amy that instantly enables its storytelling methods to stand out.
Chasing Amy was a 1997 rom-com starring Ben Affleck as Holden, a comic book artist, who meets Alyssa, played by Joey Lauren Adams, but subsequently discovers she is a lesbian. It became a cult classic; however, its subject matter was simultaneously praised for spotlighting queer communities and equally sparked controversy for its straight, male lens. Further criticism of the film, revealed by interviewees of this documentary, emphasises a toxic narrative which focused on the fairytale ending for Alyssa, being that falling in love with a straight male would be a solution. During its era, such toxicity was overshadowed by the film’s frothy nature. But, a modern-day lens reveals that Holden was critical of Alyssa’s sexual history and shamed her for having a past.
It is, therefore, startling to learn throughout this documentary that Chasing Amy was partly based on Smith’s relationship with Adams. Rodgers’ direction, to his credit, continues to provide that neutrality across its filming despite the revelations. Initially, this documentary’s premise was akin to a love letter and Chasing Amy‘s homage. As such, it is fascinating watching its transformation occurring during its runtime. Indeed, Smith’s perspective and the success of Chasing Amy are examined with film posters and Chasing Amy memorabilia on display at Smith’s home. However, this is interspersed with critical commentary from lesbian filmmakers. Genevieve Turner, an actor in Chasing Amy, had directed a film about a lesbian which also premiered at Sundance 1994 at the same time as Clerks. Whilst Rodgers is not personally critical, there are no-holds-barred interviews with Turner to provide the context and illustrate that fewer female-led projects were greenlit by Hollywood, thus accentuating systemic, questionable practices embedded within many 90s fan favourite films.
Rodgers’ impressive directorial flair also intertwines elements of his journey throughout the filmmaking, thus providing a 2 in 1 film, which increases the emotional resonance. Rodgers is often onscreen, and the film embraces a coming-of-age and self-discovery genre. The candid nature of this film also extends to an interview with Adams, who provides that added perspective, given that the character Alyssa is partially based on her life. Rodgers, admirably, does not gloss over the tense moments of such an interview which also signals a maturity developing for Rodgers throughout the film. This may be voyeuristic, but it is equally compelling and raw viewing.
Still, knowing that Miramax produced Chasing Amy ensures that a post #MeToo lens pervades this documentary. Despite the initial naivety of Rodgers and the exuberant emotions at the start of this film, there is that unsettling feeling lingering due to this connection with that production company. This Chasing Chasing Amy documentary is under no illusions about Smith’s association with Harvey Weinstein, which Smith directly addresses. To Rodgers’ credit, such problematic issues are confronted, given his admiration of Chasing Amy.
Chasing Chasing Amy is a film about Rodgers’ growth as much as being Chasing Amy‘s homage. It is, therefore, a more rewarding film due to this other emotional, meta journey that may have been cathartic for some interviewees. The film charts the uncomfortable reconciliation process that many of us have possibly embarked on concerning historical films we enjoyed in our youth. Chasing Chasing Amy is a well-made documentary with a unique approach and much to digest. It will therefore leave a thought-provoking imprint, and hopefully, Rodgers’ journey may inspire others on a similar self-discovery path.
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